Italy, in whose heart lies the center of the universal church, is traditionally Catholic. But a new study shows: Social secularization is advancing. Can Corona stop the trend?
Few countries are as traditionally linked to Catholicism as Italy. It is home to the most beautiful church buildings in the world and a culture of faith that dates back to the first centuries after Christ. But even the Mediterranean nation with the Vatican at its heart is not immune to progressive social secularization.
The Turin-based sociologist of religion Franco Garelli has analyzed this development in his recently published book "Gente di poca fede" ("People with
little faith") documented. The results of the study it contains speak for themselves: the number of atheists in Italy has tripled in the past 25 years – to 30 percent by now. Only one-fifth of citizens still attend Mass regularly.
Numbers are constantly declining
While about half of Belpaese residents prayed daily in the 1990s, barely a quarter do so today. Just under one in four, meanwhile, believes that belief in God is something only for "naive people.". A quarter of a century ago, only five percent of Italians were so critical of religion. The proportion of those who continue to consider religion an essential element in the search for meaning in life fell from 80 to 65 percent.
A look at the flow of money provides reliable evidence of the waning ties to the Catholic Church. Unlike church tax in Germany, such a contribution is not automatically withheld from members in Italy. Every taxpayer can decide for himself to whom he wants to pay the obligatory "Otto per mille" cultural tax. With his tax return, he can choose to allocate the eight per thousand to a faith community, the state or social causes. The rate for the Catholic Church was recently just over 30 percent. Significantly fewer than a few years ago.
When the 2019 tax revenues were published a few weeks ago, journalist Antonio Socci gloatingly summed up, "Pope
Francis has always preached a desire to make the church poor. Apparently he has succeeded."Scientist Franco Garelli, who also cooperates with the Italian Bishops’ Conference, has a more differentiated analysis. The 74-year-old speaks of a certain "religious fatigue" in the country that has visibly manifested itself over the years. The relationship with faith has become "more uncertain and fragile" in modern times.
What the future holds?
Garelli nevertheless thinks little of pessimism. Instead, he points to a phenomenon that he calls "Catholic subculture. This
A fifth of the population is a kind of "nucleus" that zealously cultivates religious rituals, considers faith essential and passes it on to its children. Such "convinced and active" Catholics formed the pillars of many parishes. Topics such as family, bioethics, solidarity and education are particularly important for the milieu. "This committed Catholic world plays a valuable role in the country," Garelli emphasizes. This can be built on. Especially when it comes to coping with social emergencies.
The expert therefore sees an opportunity for a revival of Catholicism in the Corona crisis of all things. And the numbers support his thesis: according to a recent evaluation, the pandemic has noticeably increased the religious needs of Italians. 16 percent say they pray more than usual during this period. A quarter feel an increased spiritual desire.
Garelli considers the evening of the 27th anniversary of the founding of the Catholic Church in Italy to be a remarkable indication of this. March. When Francis gave the "Urbi et orbi" blessing in an almost empty St. Peter’s Square, some 17 million Italians (28 percent) watched it live on their television screens. "Especially in
difficult moments, many people are looking for sources of meaning," concludes the sociologist. The Catholic Church must now show what it has to offer.